Okay, I lied. The book “Metaphors Be With You,” by Dr. Mardy Grothe, is not a literal treasure chest. It’s a metaphorical treasure chest.
But then, all metaphors are literal lies, aren’t they? Grothe says there are, and I can see his point.
A metaphor is a figure of thought in which one thing is described in terms of another. It’s very different from describing something literally, exactly as it is.
“You’re a peach” is a metaphorical compliment. Taken literally, it could only mean you were talking to a piece of fruit.
By the way, the word “literally” still means “exactly what the word says.” So avoid verbal blunders like the one I made in the headline to this article. Also, avoid remarks like, “This movie is so scary I’m literally having a heart attack,” if you don’t want someone nearby to call 911.
I said that metaphors are literal lies. But in another sense, they can convey deeper truth than plain, technically accurate language. Someone by the name of Orson Scott Card said,
“Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.”
Example: “Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning” (William Arthur Ward). Can you say more with fewer words? I can’t.
“Metaphor is the energy charge that leaps between images, revealing their connections,” says Robin Morgan. How’s that for a metaphor about metaphor?
But I was talking about a treasure chest—the book from which I took all the above quotations. This book holds treasures of wisdom and wit and wonder. It’s a collection of quotes, each of them expressing a metaphor. Grothe, who has spent decades researching and collecting quotes and who has published a number of other anthologies, claims to offers in this book the 10 best things ever said on 250 topics. In addition to these 2500 quotes, each section has a QR code that can take you to the online gallery containing additional quotes as well as related insights and information. The QR code-reading app is free and quick to download.
The QR code for the entry on “Metaphor” led me to this little poem by K. C. Rourke. It’s apparently a play on a poem by William Hughes Mearns:
“Late last night, upon the stair/I metaphor that wasn’t there./But if it’s not there, how can I quote it?/‘AHA!’ I told myself—and wrote it.”
Metaphors are fun. They’re also powerful because they have such a strong yet often subconscious influence on the way we think and act. Warren Bennis, in “Why Leaders Can’t Lead,” said “If I were to give off-the-cuff advice to anyone trying to institute change, I would say, ‘How clear is the metaphor?’”
Geoffrey O’Brien refers to quotes we internalize as our “mental furniture.” What metaphors make up your mental furniture?